By Tom Stewart
Brighton & Hove Albion have secured the League One title after a hard-fought 3-1 win at struggling Walsall on Saturday (April 16).
Albion went into the game having secured promotion days earlier. On that same night, Southampton were defeated at Rochdale, meaning just a win against Walsall would secure the title, with four games to go.
Manager Gus Poyet made two changes to the side that defeated Dagenham, with Matt Sparrow coming in for Craig Noone, and Chris Wood was replaced by Ashley Barnes.
Over 2,000 Albion fans made the trip to the West Midlands in expectant moods. The Seagulls started the game brightly, eager to shake off any match-day nerves. Barnes was denied by a smart double save by Walsall keeper Jimmy Walker.
From the resulting corner, Elliot Bennett’s delivery was met by the head of Inigo Calderon, who sent Brighton 1-0 up. Calderon, who was captaining the side in the absense of the suspended Gordon Greer, celebrated with a traditional Spanish dance.
Walsall, themselves battling for points, weren’t going to roll over, and five minutes later they were level. Liam Bridcutt’s misplaced clearance was headed in by Andy Butler to silence the away fans.
Albion appeared nervous for the remainder of the half, unable to break down a battling Walsall side, and went in at the break 1-1.
It wasn’t long before they were back in front. Top scorer Glenn Murray headed home from another corner, just two minutes after the interval, and the title was within site.
Walsall continued to press, but their task became harder when former Brighton trialist, Emmanuel Ledesma, was sent off for a two footed lunge on Adam El-Abd.
Elliot Bennett secured the win and the title on the stroke of full time with a stunning strike from 30 yards out.
The final whistle blew and provoked a pitch invasion by the Albion fans.
“It’s unbelievable to be top and know that no one can go above us, we were the best team in this league by far.”
Albion now have three games remaining, including next Saturday’s clash with second placed Southampton. As the first visitors to the new champions they will form a guard of honour for Poyet’s men.
This will be an even sweeter moment for Seagulls fans, after Saints boss Nigel Adkins claimed earlier this season that Brighton “would be lucky to keep up” with his side.
Albion (4-4-2): Ankergren; Painter, Calderon, El-Abd, Elphick; Sparrow (Noone), Bennett (Navarro), Dicker, Bridcutt; Barnes (Wood), Murray. Subs not used: Brezovan, Dunk, Kishichev, Sandaza